A patent is a licence from a government giving (for a set period of time) the sole right to a process or invention. For the duration of the patent no one else can make, use or sell the invention without the permission of the inventor. Like any other property, a patent can be bought, sold, rented or hired. In return for this monopoly, the inventor must disclose technical details of the invention, which are published by the Patent Office.
Patents are a vital source of technical information, and can save time spent on duplicated research. They can also be useful as a source of information about a company for job-hunters and interview candidates.
There are several databases you can search, and you can use them without a username or password either on or off campus. We recommend starting your search with Espacenet.
Espacenet (European Patent Office)
Contains the full-text and bibliographic details of more than 70 million patent documents worldwide, from 1836 to today, although coverage depends on country. British granted 'B' patents from June 2002 are available from the British Espacenet server only. Access to Espacenet is free.
UK Patent Office Espacenet tutorial offers help with searching Espacenet by name, keyword, patent number and IPC code.
Espacenet help brochure (PDF) gives brief information about searching and the coverage of the database.
USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office)
Gives full-text and bibliographic details of patents. It covers 1790 to date for granted (issued) US patents and from 15 March 2001 for published applications. You must have a TIFF image viewer plug-in installed in your web browser to view and print the full-text images.
Help can be found on the homepage of the databases. There is help for using both the Issued Patents and Published Applications databases.
USPTO also provides a Patent Alert service. If you register, this service will send you information about new patents matching your subject area.
Uses data from the USPTO, but with a friendly full-text search and downloadable PDFs.
Leeds Central Library Patent Information Services is an excellent resource, holding copies of all British, US, European, and many other patents, and a comprehensive collection of indexes on CD-ROM or microfiche.
Our document supply service will try to obtain patents that aren't available on the web or from Patent Information Services.